Blue Lake, Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado

Blue Lake - 5.1 miles

Brainard Lake Recreation Area

Blue Lake (11,355')

Blue Lake (11,355')

Round-Trip Length: 5.1 miles
Start-End Elevation: 10,525' - 11,355' (11,371' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +830' net elevation gain (+905' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Blue Lake - 5.1 Miles Round-Trip

Blue Lake (11,355') is located 2.55 miles from Mitchell Lake Trailhead in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. It fills a large, rocky cirque framed by Mt Toll, Mt Audubon and Paiute Peak. The short hike is highlighted by Mitchell Lake, abundant wildflowers and a striking alpine backdrop. Unmaintained routes continue on to Upper Blue Lake, Mt Toll and Paiute Peak:

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The Mitchell Lake Trail rises gently in a high subalpine forest to Mitchell Creek and the official Indian Peaks Wilderness boundary (.45 miles : 10,646'). It moves easily to Mitchell Lake, which occupies a broad, marshy flat at the base of Mt Audubon (.85 miles : 10,725').

The trail crosses Mitchell Lake's inlet on a long footbridge (1.1 miles) and steepens into the valley's center. Blue Lake's outlet pools up in several places along the way, forming a string of large ponds that are worth exploring. Look for moose in this willow-lined corridor.

The trail undulates through patchy krummholz with a good look at Mt Toll's conical summit. It clears treeline by a wide cascade and crests on the east shore of Blue Lake (2.55 miles : 11,355').

The open shore offers room to explore and a complete view of the upper valley including Little Pawnee Peak (12,466'), Mt Toll (12,979'), Paiute Peak (13,088'), and Mt Audubon (13,223'.

Here the maintained trail ends, but a fairly intuitive route continues up the north shore to Upper Blue Lake (11,833'), which lies in a rocky bench below the Mt Toll - Paiute Peak saddle (3.35 miles : 11,901'). Strenuous and potentially technical cross-country routes continue on to Little Pawnee Peak, Mt Toll and Paiute Peak.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N40 05.001 W105 34.910 — 0.0 miles : Mitchell Lake Trailhead
  • N40 05.145 W105 35.309 — .4 miles : Cross Mitchell Creek
  • N40 05.215 W105 35.669 — .9 miles : Mitchell Lake
  • N40 05.200 W105 35.836 — 1.1 miles : Cross Mitchell Lake inlet
  • N40 05.204 W105 36.213 — 1.5 miles : Bend south into center of valley
  • N40 05.070 W105 36.702 — 2.0 miles : Moderate climb on rocky trail
  • N40 05.240 W105 36.870 — 2.35 miles : Travel beside Blue Lake outlet
  • N40 05.308 W105 37.050 — 2.55 miles : Blue Lake

Worth Noting

  • Blue Lake is one of the most popular destinations in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, especially on weekends. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.

  • Moose are common in the Blue Lake area, typically in late summer-early fall after passes along the Continental Divide have cleared. Elk can be seen on higher ridgelines, while marmots are common along the trail.

  • Blue Lake is one of four lakes in the Indian Peaks' 4 Lake Travel Zone (the others are Mitchell Lake, Long Lake and Lake Isabelle). Given its heavy use, camping is not permitted in this zone June 1 - September 15.

  • The Blue Lake trail can be wet, muddy and snow covered well into summer. Remain on designated trails and avoid trampling on delicate vegetation.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Camping is prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone (which covers Mitchell, Blue, Long and Isabelle lakes) May 1 - Nov 30.
  • Permits are required for all overnight campers June 1 - September 15 in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
  • Permits are required year-round for day and overnight use by large groups (8+) or organizational groups such as scouts, churches, schools and hiking clubs.
  • Group size is limited to 12 people or people and packstock combined.
  • Campfires are prohibited on the east side of the Continental Divide (including the Four Lakes Travel Zone), as well as at Caribou Lake, Columbine Lake, Gourd Lake, Crater Lake and in the Cascade Creek drainage above Cascade Falls.
  • Camping is permitted only at designated campsites in the Diamond, Jasper, Crater and Caribou Lakes Backcountry Zones.
  • Camping is prohibited within 100' of lakes, streams and trails.
  • Stock is prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone, in the Cascade Backcountry Zone above Cascade Falls and on the Diamond Lake Trail #975.
  • Pets must be on a handheld leash at all times.

Rules and Regulations

  • There's a $10 fee to enter the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Use the self-service pay station if no attendant is on duty. Fees, Parking, Pet, Camping and Trespassing regulations are strictly enforced.

  • Dogs must be leashed at all times on trails within the Indian Peaks Wilderness and Brainard Lake Recreation Area.

Directions to Trailhead

Blue Lake is accessed from the Mitchell Lake Trailhead within the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. The trailhead is located 5.7 miles west of CO 72 (Peak to Peak Highway) on Brainard Lake Road. Brainard Lake Road is located 13 miles north of Nederland, and just northwest of Ward.

From Highway 72, turn west on Brainard Lake Road and drive 2.7 miles to the entrance station. Use the self-service pay station if no attendant is on duty. Continue 3 miles to the Mitchell Lake Trailhead (follow signs). The road is closed between the fee station and trailhead from late October through late June or early July (depending on snow). Parking at the trailhead is limited. Additional roadside parking is available in designated spaces only.

Contact Information

Boulder Ranger District
2140 Yarmouth Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301
303.541.2500

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.



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